April 27, 2014

The Choke Hold On My Life, Part I: Who's In Control Here?

In an ongoing examination of sin in my life I keep coming back to anger and frustration. I find most often that the source of my anger is that my life or my plans are not working out. They are not going the way I wanted or intended them to go. This assumes I am sovereign over my own life. I of course, would be totally wrong. I am merely a steward over the things God has given me and put at my disposal. I am even a steward over my own body and life. How you ask? It is because my body and life are a temple of the Holy Spirit and I am a living sacrifice or testament to God as a Christian (1 Corinthians 6, Romans 12). Even non-believers serve God purposes as the Bible showed with Nebuchadnezzar and King Ahasuerus/Xerxes. I will be held accountable for my actions not only to others but even to my own person, body or soul. The bottom-line is I want to have control of things and think sometimes I might…but really I do not.

Why is it, that men like me have an issue with control? It is an issue I have struggled with trying to overcome since forever. It is another issue my wife has patiently tolerated for way too long. The idea of relinquishing control to me is frightening but I have had to learn to humble myself and when needed, be meek. I need to loosen my choke hold on my life. The tighter my death grip was on my life and others, the more I choked the life out of my relationships. Most importantly I was choking off my relationship with God and my wife in my marriage.

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

The verse above says I cannot serve God and money but the truth of the passage (and its intent) is that we cannot serve anything of the creation in lieu of God or we make what we serve our god in God's place. We make it our idol. Making myself my own master made me my own idol. I became a golden calf. 

I am no longer to live for myself and I am certainly not to make myself an idol.

Romans 14:7-8 ~ “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

2 Corinthians 5:15 ~ “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

Exodus 20:3-4 ~ "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below."

I am therefore at war with God over sovereignty and control over my life. Even if say I am trying to control my circumstances to produce a better outcome or I attempt to control other people with their own freewill, I am in reality trying to outmaneuver God. If God is truly sovereign and acting in providence, this has to be true. No matter how this shakes out in the end, I lose. God either gains mastery over me in holiness because I have submitted to Him or He gains mastery over me in eternal punishment because I’ve not repented and have been condemned to Hell. Either way, it is clear to me that God will always be in control. Fighting from this perspective then seems pointless. By trying to usurp control I choke off the blessing in my own life.

It should not surprise us men then that we are in this battle when our culture and society has taught us to be self-sufficient. The quintessential American cowboy and rugged individualist. Men (and women) have been questioning God’s sovereignty, authority and right to rule over us since Genesis 3 and today is no different. I believe the exact words from the Devil were, “Did God really say?” Then the further temptation, “You will be like God.” I first try to question God’s wisdom and then I think I can replace Him. Typical idolatry. Typical sin. 

When I sit here and say that my plans have not gone the way I want them to, what I am really saying is that my plans were indeed better then God’s because mine were better quality and better suited to me. I guess what I'm saying is that I know what's best for me, don’t I? How could God possibly know me better than I do? Well, the fact is, He does. He has carefully planned my days long in advance (Ephesians 1:4-6, Romans 8:28-30). I can only approach each day one at a time. I can only live them like the minute hand ticking of time on a clock. God on the other hand knew the plans He has for me (Jeremiah 29:11).

Where is the proof of this in the Bible. We see that Peter would one day serve the purposes of God in ways that not even he intended nor wanted to and he is told this by Jesus Himself.

John 21: 18-19 ~ “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”  Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Peter will not be in control of his own life when he grows old but knowing this in advance shows the Jesus is in control ahead of time. Knowing this, what does Jesus tell Peter to do? Follow Him. The question is: Why should Peter follow Jesus if it leads to death? Simple. Even dying for Christ, while being in Christ is gain and loss of this world is actually gain of eternal life. The best thing I can do by dying to self and giving my life for and to God...is to die. I will then be dying for God’s cause in glory and I will get my ultimate reward by entrance into glory with Jesus. Of course this is not a pretty scenario from this side of Heaven but I am not to live for what this life gives but rather what God gives in eternity on the other side.

Philippians 1:21 ~ “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

The root of the problem with me is the flesh.

Romans 8:6-8 ~ “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

In the midst of what seems like a huge loss and debilitating dissatisfaction with life I have tended to fall back into survival mode that casts off moral restraints in favor of what I want. This was not Peter’s course and it most likely won’t be mine. I try to control everything in sight to try and steer what I view as an errant life back on course but to no avail. It is like fighting the tide when in reality I am fighting something even more powerful: God. When life throws fiery darts my way it is so hard to look toward the heavens and see the positive purpose of giving up one’s life even more than I already am to God. The sin in the flesh doesn’t want to and ops to fight for control anyway. Furthermore, in the middle of pain I am prone to question the validity and wisdom in God’s decisions for my life. I withdrawal into myself to protect myself from further disorientation and pain.

I have also tried to control (or manipulate) others around me which is an attempt to control my environment that had also gone awry. In an attempt to control my environment I end up manipulating others. Usually this is not intentional but rather an attempt to maintain what I believe is proper structure in life. Again, I am imposing myself in God’s roll and I am imposing myself on others and both are wrong. The manipulation of others is the end byproduct of trying to control my surroundings. What makes matters worse is I will then often take offense when people don't do what I believe they should have done which further deteriorates my relationship with them. I get frustrated and the people I am unintentionally trying to control end up feeling like objects. In particular they feel like puppets. I don't ever remember God making me feel this way so I should not be doing it to others either.

The Bible tells me that I am to do the opposite. I am to open my arms to God in faith and relinquish control over to Him, even if it means another punch in the teeth. I am not to treat others unfairly or manipulatively but to love and to serve them. This requires that I release control over my life to others to find out what they need done in theirs. This also requires that I allow them to tell me what to do. To allow God control over my life is to obey Him and let Him control. To love and to serve others means I have to give up my freedom to do what I want in my life so that I can do for them. I must actually turn control over to them too at least temporarily. Everything in my flesh screams at me to do the opposite. To run and hide. If I do not want to do for others I am being selfish, nothing more. It sort of ends up being a paradox.

So…when I feel impelled to control like many men (and women) are prone to do, I am being idolatrous, selfish and unloving…and so are you if you do the same. Sin compounded by layers of sin. Not such a great place to be in one’s walk with God. Come to think of it, if I had continued to do this there was a good chance I was not walking with God at all. If you are doing the same…neither are you. If I add anger (I did) to this because people are not doing what I want when I am trying to control them, I am just adding more sin to the mix. My sin then becomes manifold until it takes me over completely and spirals life totally out of control. I try to justify my anger by calling it frustration but it is still anger. This of course is the very opposite effect that I intended by attempting to control things. Instead of water on a fire, I toss on more gasoline which accelerates sin's destructive effects. God really does give me over to my sin at this point. What’s worse is the modern culture tells me that this is acceptable behavior (just like it does with anger, greed, sexual immorality, etc). You be in control of life! You have your best life now! Blah-blah-blah.

So what am I to do with this entrenched sin in my life? Guess we will need to unpack more in the next post…

[Continued in Next Post]

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